Rebecca, The Economist + The Sartorialist

The Sartorialist, not The Economist

+ Sartorialist, - Economist

I keep thinking about a young lady named Rebecca.

Rebecca was being interviewed in a short video at the beginning of a presentation at an event last week at Stanford University. The folks at the Knight Fellowship had teamed up with the Stanford Design School to explore cutting-edge future scenarios of journalism, and were staging a competition among three teams. Each team was to come up with one potential “next big thing” in media, to make a prototype, and then to present it to a panel of three judges. I was one of those judges.

So Rebecca appeared in that video at the start of the third presentation. She was, I think, an MBA student at Stanford, obviously super-bright and media-savvy, busy, ambitious, and all the rest of it. They asked her what her home page was. It was The Economist. So far so good.

She said a few more of the things that my colleagues and I tend to hear when people first discover that we work for The Economist. You know: global, intelligent, cosmopolitan, and things along those lines. Then Rebecca visibly got bored with her own bullshit.

So how much of The Economist do you actually read? her interviewer asked her.

Hardly anything, it turns out. And now Rebecca held forth: To be honest, she really only has The Economist as her home page because, well, that’s what one does in her circles. But she feels no connection to it at all. To her, the tone is that of some robot-like genteel alien preaching to her about what she should know for the next cocktail party. (As a good sport, I made sure that I was laughing and applauding loudest in the hall, for the record. Which was hard, because the hall suddenly seemed full of Rebeccas.)

Alright, continued the interviewer in the video, in that case, where does Rebecca go (if not, apparently, to her own home page)? She named a few sites. But the one she seems to “depend on” most, currently, is The Sartorialist.

And isn’t there a perfect symmetry to that? Officially The Economist, but really The Sartorialist. A site run by one man who

  • loves his subject–fashion in the world’s cosmopolitan cities
  • takes artful and intimate pictures
  • cares not a hoot about whether anybody agrees with his taste, and
  • is rewarded by a growing and steady following (largely from the same demographic as The Economist‘s) for precisely that authenticity.

On The Sartorialist site, Rebecca feels at home and intimate. On our site, she feels like a guest in some snobby show room, feeling (metaphorically) that she has to hold her pee until she finds a place where she is more comfortable asking for the bathroom.

So that’s what I’m thinking about. Here we are at The Economist–having powwows about the future, basking in our no-bylines eccentricities–while the Rebeccas out there politely keep us as their homepage, then bugger off to some other place that “gets” it. We would be foolish, and soulless, not to pay attention to Rebecca.

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20 thoughts on “Rebecca, The Economist + The Sartorialist

  1. Surprise? Not really Andreas.

    I found the following description of Mr. Satorialist

    “Schuman is a journalist who is most famous for his blog on which he features images of stylish people on the streets of cities all over the world. The diversity of the images—colorful street fashion in India to haute couture in Paris—reveals that style is more than just a label; it is also a personal expression. The success of The Sartorialist blog has gained Schuman a great deal of accolades and attention. He was recently named by Time magazine as one of the fashion world’s 100 most influential people.”

    In his own biography he touts his education at Indiana University majoring in Apparel Merchandising, with a minor in Costume Construction.

    The Minor in costume construction makes him perfect for “successful” people these days from the office clerk in New York right on up to our political leaders. NO SUBSTANCE. Not to pick on Obama but he is in costume-wouldn’t you agree? He is absolutely beautiful. OK, to be egalitarian with my cynical observations, Reagan and the Bushes are in costume with their 10 gallon hats. The result? They are Imposters, all of them.

    And I hate to admit it, but during our rendition of Glory Days at my gig on Saturday night, I donned a do-rag so I would feeeelll like Steven Van Zandt of the E-Street Band!!! I even had a compliment from a, believe me, well-costumed 30 year old woman!!! Wonder if I could get in the Satorialilst?

  2. So what did Rebecca present as the Next Big Thing?

    I have a thing this minute.
    I’m at a hotel’s restaurant with my laptop (my Dell, not my Apple). I get about 10 possible places to connect to wireless internet. Surely all these places are not operating at capacity. I’ll pay, but I want to bid. For sport, I’ll even give my waiter a competitive fee – if he’ll give me a ‘free’ access code.

    Whenever I think of Rebecca, I think of the “Oddfellows and Rebekahs. Then, I keep thinking about it. What do they do?

    I get a queasy feeling looking at the Sartorialist’s website; like I just walked into a party and realize how hip I am (not). Where does the celery-boats-filled-with-cream-cheese Complex fit in? And I don’t mean the kitschy or kinky celery boats. I mean the kind you have on a ‘special night.’ What’s the origin of that word, Sartorialist?

    I’ve thought of three or four comments about the do-rag, but they’re not interesting. Rock on.

  3. Well, hello, Pedro! I enjoyed our chat last week. Everybody: Pedro was on that third team that night. (Were you in fact the one interviewing Rebecca in the video? I gather that you’ve been thinking about her, ahem, in a purely professional context.)

    If you feel like it, Pedro, give your version of Rebecca’s answers. (is the video on YouTube?) I am sure that I garbled her story in the recollecting and retelling. You were certainly making a powerful point with it!

    Cheri, I might qualify as being educated above my intelligence. But Rebecca actually seemed anything but snobbish. I know her Economist home page might make it sound that way, but….

    Steve, if you do indeed get onto The Sartorialist, I promise a special post for the occasion. But why does his minor in costume construction mean that he has no substance? The man loves clothes and has some special gift of perception that touches people such as Rebecca. That’s something, isn’t it?

    Mr Crotchety: Latin sartor = tailor ==> sartorial=having to do with tailoring. I think it’s a good blog title, because it sounds like a cross between satire and sardonic, and with The and ist it also seems to wink at The Economist.

    I’m not exactly at risk of being featured on The Sartorialist, nor a likely reader, but I say: power to him!

    Adrian: thanks for the link!

  4. I admit I need to lighten up on the Satorialist. There is obviously nothing wrong with fashion. My point is that it often involves costumes that we all use to project our image and it is important to know when the person is acting so to speak or is accurately revealing their essence. I found it ironic that Rebecca tried to project the image to the panel as someone who reads the economist when she was really turning more often to costuming and fashion where the presence of imposters is more frequent. No less than my prop and the fake image i was hoping to create on sat night. No intention to offend here. Sorry if I sounded too harsh.


  5. “To her, the tone is that of some robot-like genteel alien preaching to her about what she should know for the next cocktail party.”

    This I can’t disagree with, even though I enjoy the Economist immensely.

    I also bookmarked the Sartorialist, though I know nothing about fashion.

  6. Hey —

    Andrew Haeg did the video interview you saw. We did the first interview together — you can find a glimpse of that here. (But the second filmed interview is way better…)

    I think you’re quite right: it’s not out of snobbishness that she has The Economist as her homepage. She’s incredibly smart, a Stanford student after all, and she feels she must follow the news in a smart way. Ergo, The Economist. But it’s not attractive to her.

    She has this very strong sense of aesthetics, she’s quite visual in the way she looks for the news or information in general. After going back and back to her we came to the conclusion that she’s looking for connections. She wants to understand how every piece of news relate to each other and how she fits in that equation… that’s something that The Sartorialist delivers. It’s about fashion, yes. But it’s also splendid photography of day to day people. She sees herself in that world and that’s what really makes it incredibly attractive.

    We came to believe that she represents many of the smart people in her generation. It’s about the connections in stories, it’s about how every story is somehow our own, it’s about how the best stories are about very visual scenes (even if those are described in writing…) Quite digital, indeed. And, yet… that’s what Homer did, isn’t it? 😉

    But, just to clarify… The project is a joint venture of the Stanford Design School and the Knight Fellowships. The does have connections with IDEO, but it’s not the same as… =)

  7. Thanks for the correction, Pedro. I’ve made the change in the post, so that future readers have it right.

    The video was interesting, although the one that I saw was more powerful.

    “….she’s looking for connections. She wants to understand how every piece of news relate to each other and how she fits in that equation…”

    “… We came to believe that she represents many of the smart people in her generation. It’s about the connections in stories, it’s about how every story is somehow our own…”

    You’ve got it! And you guys communicated it very well. Connection, intimacy, engagement: that is the challenge, for new and old media. I am thinking about how we might be able to achieve more of this at The Economist–without looking, you know, just plain silly….

  8. I want to leave a comment for the record. You read it here first.

    The cell phone (mobile) has replaced the cigarette.

    Remember the anti-smoking campaigns with pictures of ugly people smoking cigarettes? Like that ever stopped anyone. The fact is, cigarettes are cool (and sexy) in the right hands. The same is true of cell phones. (and comparably unattractive in the wrong hands)

    I just passed another birthday and I’m feeling extrra middle aged and unhip. I thought I’d check out the Sartorialist just to feel worse. Ouch. That worked.

    And, I’m still contemplating the question you asked in the face of Alexander the Great’s accomplishments; ‘what did you do during your thirties?’ I don’t even remember. Except that, unlike Mr. the Great, I didn’t kill anyone. There was six minutes when I created my family and before that, I vaguely recall a long run interrupted by episodes of Seinfeld.

  9. How to Get Six Pack Fast: Do you mean on this blog or in The Economist?
    On this blog, I blast off with whatever is on my mind.
    In The Economist, we have “beats”, and within our beats we scan the landscape for stories. It’s a mystery to me how I choose my own pieces, and I ponder it myself.

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